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My Response to: Great Expectations

Updated on May 9, 2014

Great Expecations

In the novel Great Expectations, Charles Dickens explores many ideas, including the idea of redemption. Dickens wrote the novel in an era where Britain was heavily divided by class, and it is through this lens of class that Dickens is able to explore his ideas in depth. Miss Havisham is an example of a character who experiences redemption. Miss Havisham is part of the landed gentry, and as such, is privileged, yet she spends her time training her adopted daughter, Estella, to hurt men emotionally, the same way she was hurt. However, after seeing Pip’s pain first hand, Miss Havisham realizes the implications of her actions and experiences redemption. Because Miss Havisham undergoes a journey resulting in a sincere change in character for the better, Dickens shows that Miss Havisham is redeemed.

Miss Havisham was set to marry her fiancé, Compeyson, but Compeyson abandons her on the wedding day, as he was only in it for the money. From that point on, Miss Havisham determines to never move past that moment. She never removes her wedding dress, she leaves the wedding cake sitting out and rotting, and she even stops all the clocks. Pip sees that, “her watch had stopped at twenty minutes to nine, and that a clock in the room had stopped at twenty minutes to nine” (31). In this way, Miss Havisham is trying literally to stop time and live in that moment forever. She does this for no reason other than a selfish desire to not live her life without making anyone else experience what she experienced, although strangely, she also wants to spare Estella from that pain, despite that plan backfiring.

However, it’s not only that Miss Havisham doesn’t want to move past that moment, but rather, her true “sin” is that she inflicts pain on other, both intentionally and unintentionally through her selfish actions. For Estella, Miss Havisham inflicts the pain unintentionally, following her decision to adopt and train her as a daughter. Miss Havisham says towards the end of the novel, “My Dear! Believe this: when she first came to me, I meant to save her from misery like my own. At first, I meant no more” (215). Miss Havisham feels extreme pain from her ordeal, and she wants to spare any other girl from having to go through that, which is a sympathetic goal. However, she becomes an unlikable character because, alongside this goal, she also has the goal of making all men go through what she had to go through. Both these goals are linked through Estella. By preventing Estella from loving, she will prevent her heart from being broken, but by encouraging her to lead men on, she will break men's hearts.

Society of the Machine

When a power hungry robot named Sudokus tries to take control of the galaxy, Earth becomes the last safe haven. It is then up to the humans, and what else is left of the rebellion throughout the solar system, to try to halt Sudokus’s progress. But Sudokus won’t easily be stopped, as he is fighting for more than imperial gains. He is also fighting to preserve his immortality.

Follow Leon’s journey as he attempts to save himself and his planet from being forever ruled by a machine while simultaneously trying to answer the question of whether the corruption of a robot would be any worse than the corruption of the people in power on his own planet.

Society of the Machine

Society of the Machine: Leon
Society of the Machine: Leon

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Story Continued

For Pip, however, the pain Miss Havisham inflicts is intentional, as is apparent through her words. As an example, upon one of Pip’s visits to Statis House where Estella is looking even more beautiful than before, Miss Havisham says, “Do you find her much changed, Pip?” and Dickens describes Miss Havisham as having a “greedy look” (127). Dickens shows that Miss Havisham has successfully taken away Estella’s ability to love, because Estella says to Pip, “You must know … that I have no heart” (128). Miss Havisham knows Estella cannot love, based on her own training, yet she still goads Pip into falling for her, just so Pip can feel like she felt on her wedding day. This is Miss Havisham’s most egregious sin, for which she must later atone.

Even amidst this early characterization of Miss Havisham, Dickens foreshadows that she will have her moment of redemption. Upon Pip’s first visit to Statis House, he describes Miss Havisham as having “no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes” (30). Miss Havisham having no brightness left shows the decay which her and the house represent, however the brightness in her eyes shows that there is still life in her, and therefore still the possibility of redemption, which is ultimately what happens. The redemption comes upon Pip’s final visit to Miss Havisham. In this sense, Miss Havisham’s journey is a quick one. For most of the novel, she has not accepted her call to atone for the misery she has brought upon both Pip and Estella. This call comes from within her, and it appears she does have at least some sense of guilt, based on her words. Miss Havisham “asked [Are you very unhappy now?], still without looking at me, but in an unwonted tone of sympathy” (214). This shows that Miss Havisham is starting to have sympathy for Pip, and perhaps even realizing the similarities between what he is experiencing and what she experienced. In other words, she has begun her journey towards redemption.

Miss Havisham goes further, however. Miss Havisham writes her name on a piece of paper and says, “My name is on the first leaf. If you can ever write under my name, ‘I forgive her,’ though ever so long after my broken heart is dust pray do it!” (215). Here, Miss Havisham is directly asking for forgiveness, which shows she realizes she has wronged Pip. This is her transformation, and acceptance of guilt, which is an important step on the path to redemption. It shows she has overcome her personal threshold, which was her self-imposed refusal to move on from that day when she was abandoned at the wedding altar. Once she has overcome this and allows herself to move on, she is capable of redeeming herself, which she will ultimately do in a dramatic way.

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Have You Read Great Expectations? (Did You Enjoy It?)

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Story Continued

The final step of her redemption comes in a tragic form, when Miss Havisham throws herself into a fire. The fire is symbolic of renewal in-and-of-itself, because fires destroy old things which must then be replaced by new things. Dickens writes, “patches of tinder yet alight were floating in the smoky air, which, a moment ago, had been her faded bridal dress. Then, [Pip] looked round and saw the disturbed beetles and spiders running away over the floor” (217). This fire has symbolically redeemed Miss Havisham because it is ridding her and her house of everything associated with her old, miserable life. The wedding dress which she refused to take off finally is lifted off her, and the insects and animals that had inhabited her house due to neglect are finally forced to scatter. These are all symbols pointing to Miss Havisham’s change. While being tended to for her burns, Miss Havisham repeats the earlier stated sentiments of forgiveness and only wanting to save Estella from misery. Dickens writes, “she said innumerable times in a low solemn voice, ‘What have I done!’ And then, ‘When she first came, I meant to save her from misery like mine.’ And then, ‘Take then pencil and write under my name, ‘I forgive her!’” (217). Miss Havisham’s sacrifice of her body to the fire, and ultimately the sacrifice of her life, is her boon, which is representative of redemption on the literary journey. At this point, Miss Havisham is redeemed, as she no longer wishes to inflict pain on Pip or Estella, and in fact asks for their forgiveness.

Miss Havisham’s “sin,” is her desire to use Estella to hurt men. She causes pain to both Pip and Estella because she refuses to move on in her life, but realizes what she has done, and symbolically atones through the fire, hence completing her journey of redemption. She shows that she feels sympathy, perhaps even love, for Pip and Estella. Miss Havisham doesn’t fit the typical role of hero, yet she is still able to go through the hero’s journey. She listens to her inner guilt and decides to set off on the path of atonement, which ends in her unequivocally realizing where she had gone wrong, and begging for forgiveness. Miss Havisham can never truly make up for the time she stole from Estella, or the pain she caused Pip, so she does the next best thing and atones for her wrongs. It is a testament to Dickens that this path of redemption is only one of many intertwining paths of redemption for many of the major characters in the story. While Miss Havisham is atoning for her wrongs to Pip and Estella, Pip and Estella are each going on their own paths of redemption for mistakes they have made, although theirs’ don’t end up as tragically as Miss Havisham. It is because Miss Havisham makes the ultimate sacrifice, however, that her redemption is so memorable.

Great Expectations

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    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      4 years ago from Taos, NM

      Excellent review of this novel. Great Expectations is one of my favorite classic books and I think Dicken's best book. I enjoyed reading this.

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 

      4 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      A great novel. I read this as a boy and again as an adult many years later. As a boy the book frightened and puzzled me, as an adult it made me think about the way we sometimes exercise our power and control, and how we deal with trauma. Miss H is indeed a complicated, tragic woman.

      Thank you for the response.

      I will vote and share.

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